Heels for the uninitiated girl?
August 22, 2011 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Being mostly a t-shirt and jeans type of girl in Southern California, I usually wear flip-flops or chucks. But when I go to a nice event I do want to do it up, so ease me into this business of heels!

I'm fortunate enough to work in an industry where casual dress is the norm and even encouraged, so I usually only end up dressing nicely when I go out to events -- weddings, fancy date, special occasions, nightclubs, etc. But I've always kind of gotten away with wearing flats or boots, which I enjoy wearing because it means I can literally dance all night and still feel great afterward.

However, I went to Vegas with girlfriends recently and they were finally able to open me up to buy a few pairs of nice heels - around 3~4 inches. Normally I would have balked and refused, but I've been wanting to broaden my fashion horizons and went with it.
I looked great and felt confident that I was finally able to do it, but I was in searing pain by the end of the night. I also had a bit of that dreaded newbie 'lurch' when one first tries to get used to the new walking and standing position. I'm also 5'6, which also makes me feel amazingly tall compared to my friends so there's that to get used to as well.

It killed me enough walking around and taking smaller steps, but when it finally came to hit the dance floor, I could only dance for a relatively short amount of time before I had to give up, my feet felt like searing pain in which I've never experienced before. It made me feel even more intimidated as I was gawking Go Go Dancers that seemed like it was a peace of cake. (But I know of course as a professional you make anything look easy when it's really not. :P)

I also WAS wearing Dr Scholl's inserts but I was still felt like death from below. AND I have flat feet. The particular shoe I was wearing was mostly closed toe except for a small opening, so basically my toes were getting crunched as I walked because it was tight. I know it was a grand effort to jump into the deep end by wearing a new shoe that should be stretched out and heels so high for the first time AND going to a nightclub with them on.

So, I ask of The Blue, what tips and tricks do you have for one to get better at wearing high heels? My friends have recommended that I start wearing them more often of course to get used to it, like to a dinner so I don't have to be on them so much, with the feet slowly getting used to the feeling. But is there anything else than just "practice?" I know some people get to the point where it's natural, but for now when I see heels I cringe and flinch with pain more than I recognize how fabulous one could be with them on.
posted by xtine to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Get some wedges and some stacked heels. They are much easier to get used to. I have a pair of wedges that are nearly as comfy as my flip flops. Stacked heels were what I used to wear to swing dance as a teenager. Work your way up to the massive heels.

Inserts are fine, but you need some more cushioning right under the ball of your foot. Dr. Scholl's sells those too. They're kind of grippy, so your foot won't slide forward as much.

As for being taller than all your friends, own it! I'm 5'8" and I love wearing tall heels. (My husband is 6'4" so it actually makes kissing him easier. Think of it as doing a favor to that tall, dark, handsome stranger you'll be making out with later...)
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:08 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Going from flats to 4 inch heels is kind of a system shock. If they were regular heels that's a big bunch of weight to be putting onto the balls of your feet if they aren't used to it. So I would start with smaller heels - 2 inches would be good. Once you feel comfortable moving around in them then go higher, but also look into platform heels. They might be sky high overall but you'll see the difference between the toe box platform and the heel is mostly reasonable. And yes, start with stacked heels over stilettos (I can't do wedges myself as I find them too inflexible and end up clomping around, ymmv).

It can definitely get easier and better with some different heels and practice, but dancing the night away in super high heels is almost never a piece of cake. There's a reason a market exists for fold up flats you can tuck in your purse.
posted by marylynn at 4:37 PM on August 22, 2011

Don't wear stilletto/tiny pointy heels. (Or the ones with pointy toes either.) Those are what really hurt. Your heels are supposed to be taking the brunt of your weight, for crying out loud!

I know they are REALLY HARD TO FIND (dear god, I miss the pairs I used to have), but if you can find any heels that are bigger than the 1/4 of an inch wide ones that are sold everywhere, you'll be a lot happier in the long run. The wider the better, the more weight you can have on your actual heels than teetering into your toes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:48 PM on August 22, 2011

Platform wedges. High, hip, and healthy(-ier than stilettos and even pumps). Two to drool over from Barneys (1,2), and a more economical range from Zappos. Cole Haans get good marks for comfort (I like these but don't have them). These by Madden are fun/funky. And these Stuart Weitzman are very classy. Be aware that you may have to hem some of your pants differently to get a good look at these new heights.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 5:03 PM on August 22, 2011

Oh god, you started at 4"? I find that anything more than 3" starts throwing my body/legs/feet/stride too far out of alignment, and regardless of what's being shown this season, you don't have to go any higher that to be stylish if it's a nice style (think kitten heels, not your grade school teacher's Naturalizers). Stacked heels are good to start with (no stilettos right off the bat). Some brands will work better for your feet than others. It pains me, but there really is a difference between inexpensive and moderately expensive, comfort-wise, at least for me: you don't need to go super expensive, but expect brands like Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, etc. to be better constructed and more durable. (Luckily places like Macy's will have 50% off sales several times per year.) I've got heels up to 3" I could actually jog in, from both those brands.
posted by availablelight at 5:15 PM on August 22, 2011

Did you know that Dr. Scholl's also has their own line of shoes? I recently bought a pair of these and they are like walking on air. I wear heels almost all the time and I couldn't believe how much more comfortable these were than every other pair of shoes I own.
posted by platinum at 5:42 PM on August 22, 2011

You want wider bases, lower heels, and comfort.

If you're interested in shopping online (which I don't recommend for getting started, but YMMV), search for "kitten heel." It's a ridiculous name, implications of helplessness and babyhood. Whatever. They're feminine without as big a risk that you'll fall over and break your neck.
posted by bilabial at 6:40 PM on August 22, 2011

It's a technique that you have to sort of sneak up on. Assuming your shoes are reasonably well fitted, the easiest way to tell if your heels are too high is to put them on, stand straight, and then lift your heels without bending your knees. If you can't do it (yet) such that you can get a quarter of an inch (or about 0.7 cm) of clearance between the heel and the floor, it's too high. Back off, for God's sake back off, to a lower pair. You'll be able to wear the higher ones in just a little while.

Once you can lift the points off the floor as noted, you are ready to get into the correct motion: shoulders back, nose and a point about two inches below your belly button riding a pair of invisible straight lines to the horizon, step confidently and strike with the heel first. You don't want to plant the ball of the foot until the heel's down, and the motion to strive for keeps the heel in a straight line with respect to your leg. You can take normal- or near-normal steps if you do that. Allowing the foot to turn in or out is magnified by the length of the heel. If you notice that the "tap" or heel insert is wearing other than evenly from inside to outside, you have a motion problem to fix.

I basically followed these instructions, though with a fair amount of augmentation from videos here and there, and they worked.

Also, previously.
posted by jet_silver at 7:31 PM on August 22, 2011

A lot of really good advice thus far. Fluevogs are known to be comfortable, unique, and offer a range of heel height (but am not sure of your personal taste preferences). Have fun! If you stop having fun--be sure to take em off because it will show throughought your face/body.
posted by jilliank at 7:46 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone! The ones I wore were actually closer to 3" but they were pointy heels. I've actually worn smaller heels (1-2") occasionally before and they actually never gave me a problem. I guess I just wanted to be courageous enough to try something I've never dared to try before. Despite hurting after a while I honestly realized that they weren't that bad. I never really gave into the allure of them until recently, but I will work my way into them.

While I was purchasing inserts I noticed that Dr. Scholl's advertised a line of shoes, but to be honest I thought they would be lame. Looking through them they are certainly more stylish than imagined, so I'll probably shop around and view them as an option.

It's kind of strange because I honestly had no interest in shoes besides sneakers until recently. I still think shoe shopping for anything other than sneakers or boots is one of the most boring things on the planet, but opening up to something I didn't understand as well before has a spark in itself.
posted by xtine at 8:30 PM on August 22, 2011

There's a world of difference between various brands of shoes, and even shoes within those brands. Sure, there are some serious splurge heels that are also really comfortable (oh, Fluevog, I love you) but you don't need to drop over $150 on shoes to get a comfy, sexy pair.

My test of shoes is how solid I feel when I put my foot down in them. There's a lot of little variations in angle and design, I do some stomping around the store before I buy. I have a pair of $40 Nine West sandals with a 3" heel that are sexy and give me a stable gait; I've had not-dissimilar-style Nine West sandals that just...didn't.

I find that there are certain styles that just don't work as well for the way I walk or my feet or whatever, including slingbacks, wedges, thongs, most pumps. I favor heels with more flexible soles, and styles with a strap across my foot -- this makes me more comfortable in my shoes and keeps me from clenching the muscles of my feet (which makes them ache faster and leads to MASSIVE foot cramps just as I'm drifting off to sleep.) T-straps, t-straps, t-straps, crossed-straps, Mary Janes, pumps that come up higher towards the arch, and the occasional ankle strap work well for me.

I actually don't seem to do wedge heels very well, but I dislike wearing very narrow heels, too. There's plenty of slightly more substantial heels that aren't clunky-looking.
posted by desuetude at 9:27 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dr. Scholl's makes a squishy jelly insert shaped specially for ladies shoes, and they're a lifesaver for flat feet.

As starter heels, you definitely want something non-pointy-toed. You can try some open toed shoes with chunky heels, or just lower-heeled round toed shoes.

these are all extremely awesome but fairly expensive, and are good examples of things you might find comfy and attractive.
posted by elizardbits at 6:16 AM on August 23, 2011

I have US size 11 feet, am clumsy and 5ft10, and I have very sensitive feet that blister very easily, so I don't wear heels often. I generally find that wedges are much more comfortable, though - the weight is distributed along the sole rather than just a spike at the back.

I did wear a pair of 5" heels to a party a few months ago, and I felt brilliant for about 45 minutes then had to spend the rest of the night sitting down. I have heard Chie Mihara are great for people who aren't used to heels, but it seems stockists over here only stock them up to a US8 (also, they are crazy expensive).
posted by mippy at 12:12 PM on August 23, 2011

Sorry if this is long and rambly. Here goes:

Heels present several different challenges in addition to flats. Each can be dealt with, but there's no such thing as "how to wear heels".

Probably the most obvious is the height your heels are elevated to with respect to the balls of your feet. This difference is what alters your ankle position, and takes out a lot, or in extreme cases all "suspension travel" from your lower legs.

You need to move all that motion, all that adaptability to your hips. Your butt can tense up, but your pelvic area needs to move freely from side to side and under no circumstances clench up. Once you get good at this, you'll be able to walk effortlessly without your legs providing any cushioning. This is not how most people walk naturally, although you do see women emulate the movement sometimes even when wearing flats. I'm informed it gets reliable results.

The second challenge is instability. Thin stiletto heels can be especially difficult, requiring your ankles to be strong and controlled every point of the step. This is probably something that you should avoid dealing with until you get better at handling height. Consider shoes with wide, stable heels, or wedges, but under no circumstances fall for heels that have a lot of flex between the forefoot and the heel. What you want is a stiff, fairly inflexible construction. Might be counter-intuitive, but there you go.

The third challenge comes from the added wear and tear you'll be putting on your forefoot, your knees and any other contact areas. Your ligaments will toughen, you'll learn to lessen the beating your body takes by using your hips, and inevitably you'll acquire some calluses (best to keep these to a minimum, they alter your biomechanics and can lead to other problems).

In all the above areas, one thing is crucial: fit. Think of your heels not as shoes, but more as sports equipment. The stiff sole keeps your foot stable and safe, a cushioned footbed can help hold you snugly and keep the balls of your feet from hurting, but most importantly the upper, whether straps or a more closed design, must weld your feet into the shoes much like a ski binding. There should be as little wiggle room as possible, since with the added weight and stress this would lead to rubbing, chafing and bleeding in very short order. Forget your shoe size, with heels the fit needs to be much more exact than can be summed up by a number. Go to a discount warehouse like DSW, and try on as many pairs as you can. Go nuts. Eventually you'll develop the eye for the shoes that are likely to treat your body kindly.

Oh, and past all of this your heels should look as cute as possible. But you already knew that part.
posted by tigrrrlily at 6:53 PM on August 23, 2011

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